Among the most frequently cited topics in the business world today is strategic innovation. Business leaders often wonder how to deal with change management since the world is constantly in flux and everything is changing at a brisk pace, including markets, best practices and customer expectations. The challenge: It often seems that as soon as we wrap our heads around one new idea as an enterprise, it changes shape, or something completely new comes down the creek and we're left reeling.
So how can we, as modern professionals, possibly stay ahead of the curve in a world, and commercial marketplace, that moves this quickly? The answers may be simpler than you think.
Ironically, most any enterprise can see where trends are headed long before they come down the pike, as new technologies, tools and events impact the marketplace. Rather than simply spot what’s coming next though, the trick is to have the good sense to prepare yourself to surf the tidal waves of change coming your way. Start by implementing processes, platforms and people-centric solutions that allow you to stay abreast of rising trends and topics, then proactively develop, implement and test new methodologies, products and services to address these emerging areas of concern. From there, observe the responses prompted by these solutions and react, iterating accordingly as you go. That makes it a bit easier to adapt.
Ultimately, it pays to be proactive: It's wiser to stock a fire extinguisher on hand before the roof catches flame then finding yourself having to sprint for one while the house is burning down around you.
While such observations may sound trite, the challenge is that successfully addressing and adapting to strategic innovation requires implementing a culture of participation, not necessarily the type of culture built into most Industrial Age organizations. But it's key to remember that executives, managers and front line employees alike seldom have trouble spotting emerging innovations.
More often, troubles surround their ability to successfully communicate these opportunities and challenges to upper management, and obtain the organizational buy-in needed to quickly and concisely respond to these potential hazards. As a business leader, to succeed, it's important to think of change management as an ongoing, not occasional, activity that should be ingrained in any enterprise from day one. Organization-wide, you need to open yourself up to the possibility of change instead of steeling yourself against it, and both flatten lines of communication and optimize leadership, decision-making and action-based hierarchy to allow for flexible and powerful responses to rising areas of concern.
Many leaders harbor an inherent fear of or resistance to change, partially because we're afraid that the move we make might not be the right one. However, if we want to succeed, it's vital to note that freezing up is not an option; if the path is constantly shifting in front of us, doing so is tantamount to hitting cruise control while steering headlong off the road.
Strategic innovation requires that you constantly be trying, failing and learning from mistakes; market-leading products, services and organizations are seldom born fully matured. All develop over time, as further experience, information and insight is gained, allowing us to make better and more informed choices.
The key here: Decision makers need to make decisions, even if they don't have perfect information. Even the most successful organizations and managers in the world are never 100 percent sure how outcomes will play out—and sometimes, they're even aware that first attempts may well be disastrous. As Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously stated, "No good plan survives first contact with the enemy." In other words, the second that you hit the battlefield, every variable can change. So to succeed, you need to be prepared to meet those potential changes, and respond in kind.
To this extent, you need to experiment, prototype, gain hands-on learning and—whether speaking from an organizational or personal level—constantly be striving to acquire the experience, skills, contacts, insights and connections that will help diversify and strengthen your outlook as a result of each successive attempt. So long as you're doing so strategically and in measured, cost-effective fashion with an eye towards eventual success, short-term failure can actually pave the way to success.
In the same way that early prototype versions of high-tech products lead to polished end products, so too can nascent leadership strategies and approaches eventually grow into powerful ways of addressing developing topics and trends.
From a broad level, it pays to encourage employees to speak up and contribute, open channels of communication, and create incubators within any given organization. Make sure that leaders at all levels can communicate with one another and share ideas. Keep up with emerging trends, and once you have a better idea of what's coming down the pike, you can prototype with new strategies, new products and new processes designed to piggyback on or steer safely clear of them.
And ultimately, keep your organization's end goals in mind—you can lose individual battles, but still win the war. Don't be afraid of failures, as long as they're measured, strategic, and cost-effective—after all, said failures are the best way to learn.
Certainly, when managing change, it pays to have back-up plans. But you also have to keep experimenting with new approaches, and leave yourself enough headroom to maneuver as new feedback and information is gained. You don't need an industry prophet, fortune teller or high-powered management consultant to realize the secret. Constant motion and flexibility are how you stay ahead of the curve.
Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is a bestselling expert on leadership and innovation, and the author of "Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty." His website is AKeynoteSpeaker.com.